What is a lock?
A lock is like a huge bathtub with huge gates on each end. It is a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways.
We have gone through 30 locks in the 1735 miles we have traveled so far. By the time we finish the Loop we will gone through over 100 locks.
Each lock has a lockmaster. “Locking through” starts with Tim calling the lockmaster on the VHF radio telling them the name of our boat, whether we are upbound or down bound on the river and requesting a lock through. Since we are in the South we have to listen very carefully to the instructions because the lockmasters all seem to have a very Southern drawl. And it’s sort of a no-no to say “WHAT?”
Lockmasters run the show
The lockmaster will tell us how long the wait will be, which side he’d like us to tie to in the lock and to please wear your PFD while in the lock. These guys have been great. And they all call Tim “Captain”. As in, “Come right on in Cap when you see the green light and tie to either side. Let me know when you are secure.”
They open the gates, we idle in at no-wake speed, pick a floating bollard (a big hook thing that goes up and down with the water) and I lasso it with my trusty line. (You have lines on boats, not ropes…) We radio we are secure, they close the gates and then we either go up or down as they equalize to the level of the water on the other side of the lock.
When this is complete we stay tied to the bollard until the gates open, the lockmaster blows a loud blast on his locomotive-sounding horn. Then we cast off, motor out of the lock, call the lock master to tell him we are clear of the lock, thank him for his service and wish him a good day. This whole process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to hours.
Click here to see a short video
At Wilson Lock we waited 8 hours before we were allowed to enter the lock at 3AM. It wasn’t any fun at all. Commercial shipping has priority.
We got this!
The Wilson Lock has a drop/lift of 90 feet. All we could think of was the gates in Jurassic Park.
Many of the locks have a drop/lift of 30 feet or so.
Some of the locks were terrifying because they were so old they didn’t have anything to tie to. Lock 53 on the Ohio River was in such bad shape we used both of our boat hooks to grab a busted, rotten ladder on side of the wall.
And one lock wasn’t even operating. The gates were open and we motored through. Sounds easy, right? Not so much. It was like a tunnel with rapids. We were doing fine until the big boat ahead of us slowed down. Then we were dealing his huge wake AND his wake reflecting off the sides of the cement lock.
Since I couldn’t help at all I just covered my eyes.
We got through and I didn’t cry or throw up.
I called it a winner.
Tim and I started our Great Loop Adventure on 9-11-2017 in Ottowa, Illinois. We put the boat on a trailer and drove 9 hours from our home in South Dakota to Heritage Harbor Marina in Ottowa to put her in the water. Tim's brother, Dan, drove the truck and trailer back to our house. Thanks Dan!